Opinion

“I’m fighting for flexible working beyond this crisis – here’s what it would do for all of us”

Having the option to work flexibly is good for everyone, and the economy. Campaigner Anna Whitehouse, aka @mother_pukka, explains why it’s all about the power of choice…

Writer, campaigner and presenter Anna Whitehouse has been clamouring for flexible working to be made more accessible for seven long years.

As her Flex Appeal movement gains even more momentum in the wake of a pandemic that has devastated many women’s careers, Anna shares why flexible working is beneficial for everyone, how she’s pushing for legislative change and what helps her stay motivated in the fight…  

Flexibility means not having to break 

“Back in 2015 I had a job I loved, but the hours were long and rigid, and managing my daughters’ childcare felt almost impossible. 

“I’d asked my employer about flexible working, but they refused because it would “open the floodgates” to others wanting the same thing. One evening, I was 12 minutes late to nursery pick-up because my briefcase had got trapped in a Tube door. 

“When I arrived my daughter was crying, and the nursery charged me £1 for every extra minute they’d had her. I felt broken by the stress.

“That’s why I’d been seeking some flex in my job: so I didn’t have to break. 

“I knew I had to quit, but I remember thinking, “My girls can’t go through this when they’re older.” Since then, I’ve been fighting for flexible working for all, through my campaign Flex Appeal

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“The benefits of flexible working are enormous – for the economy as well as employees.

“Mother Pukka recently conducted research that found flexible working already contributes £37billion to the UK economy. 

“Increasing current rates by 50% could unlock a further £55billion, while creating 51,200 new jobs. 

“The pandemic has shown companies that employees can work from home, but flexibility doesn’t mean strapping people to their kitchen table if they’d rather be in the office. There are myriad ways to do it, from core or compressed hours to job sharing.”  

Women are impacted the most

“On top of inflexible working, the pandemic has also hurt women in the workplace. 

“One of my biggest frustrations has been seeing how many of my female friends with children have had to step back from their jobs just to function during the Covid-19 crisis: mothers were 47% more likely than fathers to be made redundant or quit in the first lockdown.

“Pay inequality and the gender pay gap mean men still generally earn more than women, so women have been expected to scale back their work to pick up the domestic load. 

“If flexibility was normalised, more women could maintain their careers after having kids – helping close the gender pay gap. 

“And there’d be less of an assumption that men’s jobs are more important because they make more money.”  

It’s time to change the law

“I’m optimistic that changes to the law around flexible working are on the horizon, although we’ve still got a long road ahead. 

“There’s a good chance that flexible working will take centre stage in the forthcoming Employment Bill that seeks to make provisions for the rights of workers. And alongside a team of amazing female barristers, I recently convinced the Bar Council to send an official message to the Law Commission, arguing that the government should look at overhauling the “entire area of law” around flexible working.

“The Law Commission recommends legislative reform, so we really hope they listen to us and decide to take this issue on. 

“When legislative change is steered by government, it inevitably gets marred by political agendas. But changes led by the Law Commission will have the employee’s best interests at heart, so that’s why we’re going down that route.”

Have confidence in your power

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“Change takes time, but I’m motivated by the thought of creating a better world for my daughters. The aim is to get this over the line before my girls potentially have kids and hit the wall I did. 

“I say to them, “You can do anything, and you can be anyone.” I tell myself the same thing before an important event like a government roundtable. If you can’t back yourself, how can you raise the next generation?

“I have different ways of harnessing my power and it may sound superficial to some, but my beauty routine is one of my most important confidence rituals. The minute I spent getting ready in the morning is my time to reset for the day ahead.

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“And I really stress this to my girls – whether it’s an eyeliner flick or a deep blush, my make-up choices don’t hide who I am, they show who I am. 

“I believe there’s power in personal choice, and your beliefs should seep into everything you do, from choosing a beauty brand that is as good for the planet as it is for your skin (my go-to is bareMinerals) to choosing what you want to change in the world. 

“Ultimately, choice is at the heart of everything I do.

“Flex Appeal is all about giving people the right to choose where and when and how they work – whether that’s ebbing and flowing between home and the office, organising their hours around childcare, or just going to the dentist without having to beg their boss for permission. 

“If you’re an employer, you can give your employees the power to choose to do their job in a way that’s good for them and your business. 

“These days, I choose what I do and how I do it. That’s what I want for everybody else.”

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All images featured in this piece are un-retouched.

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